Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some Further Thoughts on the Called & Gifted Workshop

As I said in my last post, the "Called & Gifted" Workshop my parish hosted this past weekend went quite well.

The content of the workshop was very good. As I have mentioned before, I think that Orthodox Christians tend to emphasize the monastic vocation so much that we underplay the vocational implications of holy baptism. Sherry Weddell's presentation I think did a very good job of helping people understand the importance--and priority--of our personal, baptismal vocations.

Specifically, she pointed out that in baptism we are both called to an apostolic and evangelistic work AND given gifts (charisms) that make it possible for us to fulfill that work. We are not, in other words, simply passive consumers of religious good, but have been sent out (Gk: apostolos, "someone sent out", e.g. with a message or as a delegate) by Christ to announce (GK: euangelion, or "good news") the Gospel or the Good News. The charisms/gifts we receive at baptism are what make it possible for us to do this. These charism, Sherry stressed, are not given to me for me alone, but for you, for your salvation.

Christians are called and gifted by Christ to be men and women for others--and this is true whether we are laypeople, monastics, clergy or hiearchs--we are all of us called to live for others.

Seeing ourselves this way means being willing to see the Church in a new way. The Church is not an end in itself. As Metropolitan JONAH said in Pittsburgh at the All-American Council, what happens at Liturgy is important, but is only about "5%" of what it means to be a Christian. The rest of our Christian life is about how we treat others. This is a very challenging notion for many of us.

My life as Orthodox Christians, my salvation, is not simply about me, but my willingness to serve others in their need.

As with the individual Christian, so too with the Church. The Church is a community for others in their need. We can't withdraw into our parishes and claim to be faithful to Christ.

Very easily, this kind of message could become a mere harangue. One of things that was most effective in the workshop was Sherry's very matter of fact presentation of the information. As one woman in my parish put it, "It was all very business like," direct and to the point. The power of the message was its truthfulness, her words were their own confirmation.

Talking with one of the men in the parish and with my godson who came from Pittsburgh for the workshop, we were in agreement that other Orthodox Christians would also find this a profitable use of their time. In the coming months we hope to do two things.

First, continue the process of discerning our own personal gifts and our gifts as a community. Second, and following from this, we hope to work with Sherry and the Catherine of Siena Institute to adapt more specifically the "Called & Gifted" Workshop to the pastoral needs of the Church.

The lives and examples of the saints play large part of the "Called & Gifted" Workshop. During the weekend, Sherry and I illustrated the different charisms that God gives to His People by telling about the lives of different saints, East and West, Orthodox and Catholic. While the theological content of the workshop does not require much (if any) revision for an Orthodox audience, I think that it would be good for me to do addition research in the lives of the saints as their lives can help illustrate our baptismal vocation to be apostles and evangelists.

Finally, in addition to our time together, one of the best things that was done over the weekend was the "Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory." This is a very simple self-scored paper and pencil test that gives the test taker a place to begin his or her own prayerful discernment of his/her personal vocation. While such a test can't replace the insight that comes from our spiritual fathers, it does have great practical value in helping us understand the different gifts God may have given us.

Grounding our vocation not in our conformity to an external standard but to the prompting of grace in our hearts and confirmed by the Church is something both perfectly compatible with Holy Tradition and often sadly lacking in our work with people in the parish and the seminaries. St Anthony the Great says somewhere that if I would know God I must first know myself. The "Called & Gifted" Workshop is I think a valuable aid in helping Orthodox Christians fulfill the saint's advice to us.

Again, thank you to all who made the "Called & Gifted" Workshop a success. After Thanksgiving, I hope to have photos for you.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory